What We Do

Mexican Wolf Recovery Efforts

The Mexican wolf once roamed throughout vast portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. But, as human settlement intensified across the Southwest in the early 1900s, wolves increasingly came into conflict with livestock operations and other human activities. Private, state, and federal extermination campaigns were waged against the wolf until, by the 1970's, the Mexican wolf had been all but eliminated from the United States and Mexico.

Listed as Endangered

In 1976, however, a new era dawned for the Mexican wolf. The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of gray wolf, was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, a recognition that the subspecies was in danger of extinction. The wolf was already functionally extinct in the Southwest, and only occasional reports of wolves in Mexico confirmed its continued existence in the wild. It was now incumbent upon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(Service), to lead an effort to bring the Mexican wolf back from the brink of extinction in the United States. The question was, "How?"

Recovery Efforts Begin: Captive Population

Between 1977 and 1982, recovery of the Mexican wolf was jump-started with a flurry of activity. First, the United States and Mexico agreed to establish a bi-national captive breeding program with several wolves captured in Mexico between 1977 and 1980. The purpose of the breeding program was to save the species from absolute extinction and to provide animals for future reintroduction to the wild. Meanwhile, the Service established a recovery team in 1979 to assist the agency in mapping out a recovery strategy for the Mexican wolf. The Service approved the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan in 1982. Due to the perilous status of the Mexican wolf at the time, and uncertainty if captive-reared wolves could successfully be returned to the wild, the recovery plan stated that delisting may never be possible. The plan, therefore, did not provide a definitive recovery goal (criteria to down-list or de-list the Mexican wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species) for the Mexican wolf, but instead provided an interim objective to focus and stimulate reintroduction and recovery efforts. The prime objective of the Recovery Plan states: "To conserve and ensure the survival of Canis lupus baileyi by maintaining a captive breeding program and re-establishing a viable, self-sustaining population of at least 100 Mexican wolves in the middle to high elevations of a 5,000-square-mile area within the Mexican wolf's historic range."

Reintroduction to the Wild

As the Mexican wolf captive program grew and demonstrated increasing success through the 1980s, attention turned to identification of appropriate areas for reintroduction of the Mexican wolf to its historical habitat. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was finalized in 1996, in which the Apache and Gila national forests in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, respectively, were identified as appropriate areas for reintroduction. In March 1997, the Secretary of the Interior signed a Record of Decision approving the preferred alternative of the EIS to release captive-reared Mexican wolves into a portion of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. With substantial opportunities for public input, the Service subsequently published the Final Rule, Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Gray Wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, on January 12, 1998. The non-essential experimental population designation for Mexican wolves allows for greater management flexibility to address conflict situations, such as livestock depredations or nuisance behavior, than if wolves had retained the fully endangered designation. The Final Rule provides regulations for how the reintroduced population will be managed by responsible agencies, and further, spells out public rights with respect to human safety and protection of property from Mexican wolves on private, tribal, and public lands. A copy of the Final Rule can be down-loaded from our website.

On March 29, 1998, captive-reared Mexican wolves were released to the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Here, 11 vanguards of the rarest and most unique subspecies of gray wolf in the United States began an historic journey - the journey of recovery.

In 2015, the Service announced its final revision to the Regulations for the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican wolf under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It revised the regulations in the 1998 Nonessential Experimental Population designation rule to expand and more successfully implement the Mexican wolf reintroduction program in Arizona and New Mexico. At this time the Service also extended the authority of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program’s ESA section 10(a) (1)(A) research and recovery permit to areas that are outside of the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA). Additionally, the Service listed the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) under the ESA.

In November 2017, the Service completed the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, First Revision. The goal of the plan provides guidance to recover the subspecies and remove it from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and turn its management over to the appropriate states and tribes after delisting. The recovery plan uses the best available science to chart a path forward for the Mexican wolf that can be accommodated within the species’ historical range in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. This revised plan provides measurable and objective criteria which, when met, will enable the Service to remove the Mexican wolf from the list of endangered species and turn its management over to the appropriate states and tribes.

The recovery strategy outlined in the revised plan is to establish two Mexican wolf populations distributed within the subspecies’ historical range in the United States and Mexico. This strategy for the Mexican wolf addresses the threats to the species, including human-caused mortality, extinction risk associated with small population size, and the loss of gene diversity.

At the time of recovery, the Service expects Mexican wolf populations to be stable or increasing in abundance, well-distributed geographically within their historical range, and genetically diverse. In the United States, we will implement the recovery strategy for the Mexican wolf south of I-40 in Arizona and New Mexico, in the area designated as the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area. In Mexico, federal agencies are focusing on Mexican wolf recovery efforts in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Sonora, Durango, and Chihuahua.

The Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan has undergone an extensive review through each stage of development and incorporates the best scientific information available today. This revised recovery plan was developed with Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah; the Forest Service; and federal agencies in Mexico to enable recovery of the Mexican wolf while ensuring the needs and interests of local communities are fully considered. It includes consideration of geographic distribution, population abundance, genetic management, monitoring and adaptive management, and ongoing collaboration with partners to recover the Mexican wolf in a manner that minimizes effects on local communities, livestock production, native ungulate herds, and recreation.

Management and Conservation

Captive Management for the Mexican Wolf

Captive breeding and management of the Mexican wolf began in the late 1970's with the capture of the last remaining Mexican wolves in the wild in Mexico. This effort quickly became an essential component of Mexican wolf recovery, as it saved the Mexican wolf from extinction and has provided wolves for reintroduction to the wild in the United States and Mexico.

Species Survival Plan Captive Facilities

Today, the captive population is managed under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums through the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP). The purpose of the SSP is to re-establish the Mexican wolf in the wild through captive breeding, public education, and research.  

Approximately 50 SSP facilities participate in the SSP, housing 300+ Mexican wolves in facilities such as zoos in the United States and Mexico. Although these wolves are spread out between facilities, they are managed as a single population. Mexican wolves are routinely transferred among the facilities to breed according to genetic management objectives to maintain the health and diversity of the population. 

Some captive Mexican wolves are available for reintroduction to the wild. These animals may be transferred to one of three pre-release facilities where they will be evaluated for release suitability and will undergo an acclimation process. Because there is a possibility that captive Mexican wolves may not survive in the wild, only animals with genes well represented in captivity are selected for release, ensuring the remaining genetic integrity of the captive population. 

Pre-release Captive Facilities

Mexican wolves are acclimated prior to release to the wild in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved facilities designed to house wolves in a manner that fosters wild characteristics and behaviors. These include the Sevilleta and Ladder Ranch Wolf Management Facilities, both of which are located in New Mexico within the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area, and Wolf Haven International, located in Tenino, Washington. Wolves at these facilities are managed in a manner that minimizes human contact in order to promote avoidance behavior, and to maximize pair bonding, breeding, pup rearing, and healthy pack structure structure
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Learn more about structure
development. They are then evaluated and selected for release to the wild based on their genetic makeup, reproductive performance, behavior, physical suitability, and their overall response to the adaptation process. The Sevilleta and Ladder Ranch facilities have proven very successful in breeding wolves for release purposes, and they continue to be an integral part of Mexican wolf recovery efforts.

Proactive Management Activities to Reduce Wolf-Livestock Conflict

The Mexican wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT), non-governmental organizations, the U.S. Forest Service, and livestock producers work together to limit the interaction between wolves and livestock. The group uses a variety of strategies to reduce conflicts:

  • Turbo fladry - An electric fence with red flagging installed around livestock holding pastures and private property to discourage wolves from crossing the perimeter.
  • Hay - Feed purchased for livestock producers who opt to keep livestock consolidated during calving season.
  • Range riders - Contract employees with radio telemetry equipment used to assist livestock producers in monitoring wolf movements in relation to cattle.
  • Livestock grazing rotation - Moving livestock between different pastures within USFS grazing allotments in order to avoid areas of high wolf use including den and rendezvous sites.
  • Exclusionary fencing - An eight-foot-high fence enclosing areas of private property for the purposes of protecting especially vulnerable animals or other specific reasons.
  • Radio telemetry - Monitoring equipment issued to livestock producers to facilitate their own proactive management activities and aid in the detection and prevention of livestock depredations.
  • Diversionary food cache - Road-killed native prey carcasses or carnivore logs provided to wolves to reduce potential conflicts with livestock primarily during denning season.

Reducing Wolf-Livestock Conflict

It is important to understand the role Mexican wolves are playing on the landscape, including the potential negative economic impacts on livestock producers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the Interagency Field Team work diligently with affected stakeholders to prevent, reduce, and compensate for negative economic impacts felt by affected stakeholders in the BRWRA.

Mexican Wolf Depredation Compensation

There are currently two programs from which livestock producers can seek compensation for confirmed livestock losses due to predation by Mexican wolves, 1) the Livestock Indemnity Program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, and 2) the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Grants authorized by the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-11) and awarded by the Service through a competitive process to qualifying States and Tribes.  

Livestock Indemnity Program 

The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) compensates livestock producers for losses in excess of normal mortality that are due to adverse weather or attacks by animals reintroduced to the wild by the Federal Government. LIP compensation payments are equal to 75% of the (national) average fair market value of the livestock. For more information see https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/disaster-assistance-program/livestock-indemnity/index

Wolf-Livestock Demonstration Project Grants 

The Service provides approximately $1,000,000 annually through a competitive process to eligible states and tribes to (1) assist livestock producers in undertaking proactive, non-lethal activities to reduce the risk of livestock loss due to predation by wolves and (2) compensation to livestock producers for livestock losses due to wolf predation. P.L. 111-11 states that funding made available should be allocated equally between the two grant purposes (compensation and prevention), and that the Federal share of the cost does not exceed 50 percent (requires a 50% non-Federal match). 

The Wolf-Livestock Demonstration Grant Project (WLDG) grants are applied for by AZGFD and New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) in Arizona and New Mexico, respectively, as well as by WMAT for the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. The Arizona Livestock Loss Board administers the funds received by AZGFD; the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Council assists in administering the funds received by NMDA. WMAT funds are managed and administered by the tribe.

If you suspect a wolf depredation:

Immediately contact the Interagency Field Team at 928/339- 4329 [or 623/236-7201 after hours/ weekends] to report the suspected wolf depredation and request an investigation by USDA Wildlife Services.

Our Projects and Research

The Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project

Reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf was initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 1998. Mexican wolves living in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (MWEPA) are designated as a nonessential experimental population which allows for greater management flexibility to address wolf conflict situations such as livestock depredations and nuisance behavior. The MWEPA is a defined geographic area that encompasses Arizona and New Mexico from Interstate 40 south to the international border with Mexico.

The Mexican Wolf reintroduction project is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with the following cooperating agencies: Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, USDA Forest Service, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe. These agencies, along with the Arizona Counties of Gila, Graham, Greenlee, and Navajo, and the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization, and Catron County in New Mexico, work together under a formal Memorandum of Understanding which provides a framework for collaboration that is based in sound science and which enables the signatories to develop a mutually-agreeable, long-term collaboration in reintroduction of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico within the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area as defined in the 2015 Final Rule governing reintroduction.

Reintroduction of a top predator such as the Mexican wolf is highly complex and often controversial. It is important to understand the role Mexican wolves are playing on the landscape, including all of the potential biological, social and economic impacts - be they good, bad, or indifferent. In order to continually evaluate this role, an Interagency Field Team (IFT) has been formed and has the primary responsibilities of collecting data, monitoring, and managing the free-ranging Mexican wolf population. Equally important is the IFT's close interaction and involvement with local communities directly affected by wolf recovery.

A Mexican wolf is released back into its territory following a capture during the 2019 helicopter count and capture operation with a new radio tracking collar.

Where are the wolves?

This web mapping application displays generalized Mexican Wolf locations as recorded by the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT). These locations might have been obtained through aerial surveys or GPS-enabled collars used to track animal movements. The map also displays the current Mexican Wolf Occupied Range.

Our Laws and Regulations

Trapping Activities and Due Care in Mexican Wolf Occupied Range

Taking a Mexican wolf with a trap, snare, or other type of capture device within Occupied Mexican Wolf Range is prohibited and will not be considered unintentional take, unless due care was exercised to avoid injury or death to a wolf. Exceptions to the above statement can be found in the 2015 Mexican Wolf Final Rule.

With regard to trapping activities, due care includes all of the following:

  • Following the regulations, proclamations, recommendations, guidelines, and /or laws where the trapping takes place.
  • Modifying or using appropriately sized traps, chains, drags, and stakes that provide a reasonable expectation that the wolf will be prevented from either breaking the chain or escaping with the trap on the wolf, or using sufficiently small traps (less than or equal to a Victor # 2 trap) that allow a reasonable expectation that the wolf will either immediately pull free from the trap or span the jaw spread when stepping on the trap.
  • Not taking a Mexican wolf using neck snares.
  • Reporting the capture of a Mexican wolf (even if the wolf has pulled free) within 24 hours to the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office, 2105 Osuna Road NE., Albuquerque, NM 87113; by telephone 505-346-2525; or fax 505-346-2542.
  • If a Mexican wolf is captured, trappers can call the Interagency Field Team 1-888-459-WOLF [9653] as soon as possible to arrange for radio-collaring and releasing of the wolf. Per state regulations for releasing non-target animals, trappers may also choose to release the animal alive and subsequently contact the Service or Interagency Field Team.